Good Morning. It’s me again, re-establishing my ritual of waking and writing which went to the wayside in a year of grief. The get up and go to research and write just came and went and thusly my writing has gotten downright rusty. (Please pass the oil!)
I mean it. I have attempted to put together a cohesive blog many times since my last one and what I have put out is not pretty, but there is a certain freedom in churning out crap or what Anne Lamont, in Bird by Bird, refers to as “shitty first drafts”. It is also what Peter Elbow refers to as low stakes writing in this article. (Thank you Vicki Vinton for this gem!)
It is just writing for the sake of writing, thinking and learning. I have lived with this knowing I will get through it and start to find my way back into my writer’s space. It is, after all, part of the process and I honor that over product. Right?
I preach the holy heck out of getting kids to write everyday, but now I have seen the frazzled fruits of my lazy labor as I struggle to find words and ideas that will come together into a piece that interests me. And yet we have no problem asking kids to write on demand without daily practice. We want them to perform and score perfectly on high stakes test, but we don’t take the time to let them practice. We don’t allow them the time to write without that pressure and those high stakes.
And it is in the time I take to practice that time becomes timeless. When caught in the zone of imagining what might be next, in putting words to paper time just simply disappears as we are in the “zone” and don’t bother us when we are there!!.
Ding! A text from my son, Zachary, “ I may have just written the best two paragraphs of my life.” What? (Is this REALLY from Zachary? Texting home from college about writing?)
Second text “We were told that we could write a short story about anything.” End text.
Ding, Third Text, “I am having so much fun with it.”
Let me see this fun! Yes, in these texts are expressions of sheer joy. (Who has been trampled by the big bad scary lion named rigor in education) So I asked him to send it to me and it was honestly one of the darkest things I have ever read of his. In it I could sense the intense sadness he experienced with his recent break up with his first girlfriend. It was riddled with long, drawn out sentences that were so effective in creating the suspense he was after. And after only 2 paragraphs I wanted to read more. Check it out!
Now mind you this is one of those RARE moments as parents and I was just so happy and excited for him. Even in High School, when given the reigns of choice this kid can just write. And he writes well. (In my humble opinion of course) And he does so without being an avid reader.
Zachary blows that myth of “writers have to be readers” right out of the water. Sometimes we make those sweeping general assumptions that just don’t hold true for every kid. Zach is one of those kids. I was one of those kids. I was not a reader when I was younger. You could find me out in the woods somewhere creating imaginary houses of sticks and stones or frolicking among the beaver dams or even in my room playing school. It was my sister who always had a book with her, preferably a Nancy Drew. In fact my only form of “reading” was my cherished collection of Ranger Ricks, a nature magazine with brilliant photographs that I could fawn over for hours and stop in between to play a hide and seek game. I read short paragraphs, but did not have what we refer to as “reading stamina” today.
I believe there are other kinds of “reading”. Perhaps we are readers of the world. Could it be that my time spent in my imaginary worlds, pretending to be someone else and creating characters that I would “act out” in my homes made of stick and stone were fodder for future writing? Or are those acts of imagination a form of writing in their own right? If writing is about playing with words in worlds then perhaps it can also be done outside the pages of books. But do we even stop to consider or ask how our kids are thinking anymore?
Fast-forward to now and I am always reading several books at a time; one or two for work, a novel and even a dose of daily poetry. You see we hold all of these beliefs to be true, but never stop to honor what each person IS doing!! And in the midst of all of this it takes so much NOT to get caught up in it. Walk away from the madness. Walk away!
And of course there is response. Zachary texted because he wanted some kind of feedback. I blog to ignite feedback and start conversations. We write with purpose if we know there is an audience or even a potential audience.
Photo Credit: www.cindyhayen.com
And in all of this there is a sense of honoring the individual; honoring the process or even more deeply, trusting and enjoying the process. Believing that it will take us where we want or need to go. One word at a time we discover things we never knew we were thinking or feelings who show up in disguise. Writing, for me, is a joyful and heady experience that is somewhat different every time.. On my shelves are books “on writing” and while I love reading those, ultimately I enjoy being an observer of my own process and seeing how totally me it really is. There is no one way to BE a writer. It just is. It just means you write. If you write therefore you are a writer. High Stakes, myths and expectations be damned! Let them write!
Tomasen, we are very much alike! Like you, I was not a reader as a child. With low stamina and difficulty with comprehension, I loved Ranger Rick and magazines with nature photographs and short entries. I, too, spent as much time as I could outside exploring, imagining, roaming. You articulated for me something that recently I’ve been trying to put into words: “Perhaps we are readers of the world.” And, like you, I’ve started three separate blogs over the past four years and just never developed a good habit for writing and posting. I do write in my journal on an almost daily basis but I struggle with developing my “professional” writing practice. I appreciate the points you make about the expectations we have of students. Your entry has inspired me to wake up early tomorrow and take a new stab at one of my blogs! Thank you!!! BTW, hope to meet oyu in person some day!
Oh, Tomasen—it is so wonderful to hear your voice again! I’ve actually had years when I couldn’t write much because of stuff happening in my life, but (so far, knock on wood), it always comes back, because, as I said at NCTE this weekend, I don’t always really know who I am if I’m not writing. So . . . welcome back to the blogosphere! And love the new banner picture!
I had a chance to do some “choice” reading on-line and loved reading different blogs that you wrote. My favorite was the blog that you and Emma wrote in your different perspectives of her cancer journey. So powerful! I will be going back to more reading and writing as I’m finishing up my last year at BES (35 years in education). Wow-where did that time go??? Best wishes to your and your family over the holidays!!!
What a great moment for your son to want to share his writing with you. As a teacher, that’s the same energy I hope my students have about their work, but if we don’t just let them write, it will never happen. There definitely is a sense of pressure to only share the writing we feel good about as opposed to those “shitty first drafts”–I actually read that chapter to my students but rename it “sucky first drafts.” I, too, was not a reader as a child, but I always loved to write. And I think there is something there about “reading” the world. The writing that I am doing now is not based on what I’m reading or influenced (directly anyway) by anything I am reading. It is mostly inspired by my family and memories as well as the nature around me. Interesting. Most of the writing students are doing is about what they are reading, but is that authentic? A good reminder to spend even more time having students write about their worlds and what matters to them. And to share my own first drafts, however scary that may be!
I love how honest this piece is! I love how you start by explaining that you are re-establishing this writing ritual. This is exactly how I felt when I started our course last week. When I teach, I write with my students, but while on maternity leave this year, I regret to say that I did not write. I was too exhausted from waking up every hour in the night with an infant, and I honestly felt guilty if I took any time for myself. Looking back, I think writing really would have helped me process everything I was thinking and feeling, but I lacked motivation. Writing every day in this class has made me feel whole again. This is why I return to the Literacy Institutes each summer. These courses energize me and remind me that there is so much value in doing a lot of crappy writing!
God, I love Anne Lamont. Thanks for quoting her! Her shitty first drafts were such a help to me when I first read Bird by Bird years ago. I thought, “Ah, a REAL writer who writes like me.” She’s so honest about her struggles with writing.
Now I see that process is a very tricky thing. I’m so glad that I took great writing classes that allowed me to notice my own process, to really get to know what worked for me. I’m also glad to be pushed to try out processes that I’ve not before, learning new “gateways” into my writing. It’s very gratifying to continue to nudge myself. Your line: “And in all of this there is a sense of honoring the individual; honoring the process or even more deeply, trusting and enjoying the process.” This sure is true for kids and teachers.
I send paragraphs to my mom the same way. I know she will be legitimately honest with me about how she feels about them, but that doesn’t mean I don’t try to downplay her compliments. Sometimes I feel like the venting and brainstorming I relay to her ends up including some sentiments that should be written down; sometimes she will say, “put that in a story!” I’ve told her she’s my live journal on several occasions. Humans–students–need both, don’t they? Sometimes they need to vent to figure out what they need to write about, and sometimes they need to write to figure out what they want to talk about. I think I’ve talked about this in class or written about it somewhere else here, but some of my students in the past have called our quick write/writing share sessions “therapy sessions.” It has occurred to me that maybe these kids don’t get many other opportunities to be invited to write and talk about what’s on their mind. Having them write and share gives them this platform; it isn’t targeted just towards catharsis, but hey, I would say it’s a needed bonus for them! Like I’ve talked about a lot these past few weeks, I need to get better at writing just for the sake of writing, and not expect that every piece needs to go somewhere. I think I have gotten better at that, and I’ll continue to write frequently, informally, to keep that mindset alive. I suspect that no matter what school looks like this fall, I will be incorporating even more opportunities for low stakes and no stakes writing, with the idea in mind that students will write to the potential audiences that feel inspiring or helpful to them.
It’s so refreshing to hear another educator say that they weren’t a reader growing up, and I think I carried that bias around with me… in order to write… you have to be a reader, but over time, I have seen otherwise.
I spent so many of my first years teaching without practicing what I was teaching, and I regret not putting in the time to grow as a reader and a writer.
That idea of choice is coming up again when you mentioned your son said he got to write about anything he wanted. Man… it really makes a difference, doesn’t it?!
When I read 180 Days by Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher during the “Teacher as Decision Maker” course here through the UNH Lit program, Penny and Kelly wrote about how notebooks in their classrooms weren’t graded. They assessed often, but graded less frequently. I love this idea. This low stakes writing most definitely needs to be a practice in all English language arts classrooms. You said it…. JUST LET THEM WRITE! Play, experiment, re-vision their work, mess up, re-write, think…. LEARN. Wild ideas, huh?!
Thank you for this.
For starters, I definitely want to hear the rest of the story!
In reading this blog post I can also clearly see the many benefits of low stakes writing. I can also see that it’s hard. Last night, we found our puppy foaming at the mouth and lethargic. An emergency vet trip and several hours later I returned home completely spent. I attempted to respond to this post several items last night, but I couldn’t do it. This morning I realize the issue was I’m not used to low stakes writing. I don’t do enough of it. I wrote out a response to this blog post three times and then hit the backspace button because it wasn’t meaningful enough. I didn’t have it in me. It was just rambling. Low stakes! So, this might not be the best response but it’s all I got. It’s low stakes and I’m happy with it. 😊
Note to self: Must do more low stakes writing in the classroom!
First, thank you for blowing that myth out of the water with your story of Zachary. I feel this immense pressure to try and prove to people that I am both a writer AND reader but the truth is writing is what I do more of. I enjoy writing and exploring language this way and sometimes I find reading to be too much of a chore…maybe it’s my education that’s conditioned me this way. It was really refreshing to have you write this because it is something I’ve felt for so long but felt that I wouldn’t be taken seriously if I expressed it. I find that writing often feels more low stakes than reading does for me because I’ve been taught to read for a purpose and not for enjoyment. Writing on the other hand is cathartic and personal and is a way to put my brain on paper. I love this one, thank you!